The Lakers are back! Well, sort of.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished off last week with an exceptional 3-1 record. The Lakers have now won 5 of their last 6 games.
This past week, the Lakers beat New Orleans, Minnesota and Detroit as they embarked on their annual “Grammy Road Trip”. The Lakers’ lone loss in Phoenix came after All-Star center Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder.
Despite Howard’s injury, the Lakers finished a solid week with significant help from a rejuvenated Pau Gasol. Along with Gasol’s contributions, Kobe Bryant continued his stellar facilitating on the offensive end.
With Gasol returning to his All-Star form, the Lakers have managed to continue finding success, even without their star center. Despite losing big leads in Minnesota, Detroit, and especially in their loss to Phoenix, the Lakers escaped the week with a 22-26 overall record.
Take a look back at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:
Pau Gasol : Despite a difficult start to the season, to say the least, Pau Gasol seems to have found his rhythm.
Since returning from his concussion, Gasol has averaged 16.5 points per game on 55.3% shooting and 7.4 rebounds per game. Gasol’s numbers are still below his career averages, but this recent 10-game stretch has been much more efficient than earlier in the season.
With Dwight Howard going down against Phoenix, Gasol has stepped up in his absence. Gasol looks more aggressive on the block and more comfortable being the only true post player in the lineup.
Instead of first looking to pass when he catches the ball, Gasol is now looking to shoot or drive. This is a welcomed sight, because Gasol’s quick aggressiveness is vital to his success on the offensive end.
Gasol will certainly have to adjust his game when Howard returns, but if his recent aggressiveness is any indication, that adjustment should continue to yield positive results.
As much as D’Antoni seems disinclined to make Gasol and Howard work together, Gasol’s new aggressive attitude can help alleviate any issues between the two premier big men.
The key for Gasol is confidence. Like most big men, when Gasol gets going early and often, he gains confidence that usually lasts for the remainder of the game. This confidence has shown by Gasol’s improved midrange shooting consistency and his confidence in driving to the basket.
Kobe Bryant’s facilitating has also been a huge help in ‘reviving’ Gasol’s game. Bryant is finding Gasol in good, operational areas in which Gasol can use his versatility to score in multiple ways.
The Lakers certainly need Gasol to return to his All-Star playing ability. Whether it be off the bench or as a starter, Gasol’s play on both ends of the floor is absolutely vital this season.
With Howard still not fully healthy, expect Gasol to continue his aggressive play on the block.
Kobe Bryant : Kobe “Magic” Bryant continued his assist tear this past week. Bryant again focused on getting his teammates going and improving ball movement on the offensive end.
Over the past four games, Bryant has averaged 8.3 assists per game. Bryant’s facilitating role has increased the ball movement, spacing, and just simply makes the Lakers more fun to watch.
Bryant’s facilitating has especially helped rejuvenate Gasol. Bryant seems to have made a conscious effort over the past few games to get Gasol involved early and often. This tactic has led to an “engaged” Gasol, a scary notion for opposing teams.
Bryant’s exceptional passing also led to the Lakers making 12 three-pointers against Minnesota. Bryant, along with his teammates, contributed to moving the ball quickly, which resulted in open perimeter shots.
There is no doubt that Bryant can return to his scoring ways in a moment’s notice, but with the Lakers’ newfound winning ways, why change what works?
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
It seems Bryant is content in being the offense’s main facilitator, a role he has not always embraced in the past.
With the playoffs fast approaching, Bryant must continue finding a balance between scoring and facilitating. Once Bryant finds that elusive balance, the Lakers could become even more deadly.
Earl Clark : What a pleasant surprise Earl Clark has been this season! Along with “Magic Mamba”, Clark’s versatility at the power forward position has been key in the Lakers’ recent resurgence.
Clark had arguably the best game of his career against New Orleans in which he notched 20 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists in the Lakers win. Clark also had back-to-back double doubles vs. Minnesota (13 & 10) and Detroit (17 & 10).
Clark’s ability to space the floor with his three-point shooting has also been a welcomed surprise. Clark is shooting a blistering 50% from behind the arc this season.
With Gasol going to the bench full-time when Howard is healthy, Clark has stepped into the starting power forward position with no problems. Clark constantly brings energy and effort from the starting tipoff, something the Lakers often lacked earlier in the season.
Clark’s rebounding and defensive versatility have been important as well. In Howard’s absence especially, Clark has taken it upon himself to improve his rebounding. His dedication to rebounding has helped the Lakers control the glass in recent games.
Clark’s defensive versatility has also led to an improved team defense and better defensive rotations. Clark’s unique ability to switch and guard multiple positions make him a great defensive asset.
It’s difficult to say that Earl Clark has been this season’s “savior”, but his contributions on both ends of the floor have been a huge part of the Lakers’ recent turnaround.
Antawn Jamison : Remember that stretch of six straight games with a DNP-CD for Antawn Jamison? Well, it seems those days are far behind us.
Jamison has become a consistent player off the bench for the Lakers. In his last four games, Jamison averaged 14.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg in just 22.5 minutes per game.
Jamison’s consistency has helped the Lakers continue their efficient offensive play once Gasol or Clark goes to the bench. It seems that Jamison has found his groove and is playing more relaxed lately.
The Lakers specifically signed Jamison in the off-season to be the anchor of the bench. Over the past few games Jamison looks to be embracing that role.
Jamison’s offensive game remains awkward and unorthodox, but for the most part it’s effective. Jamison also compliments both Gasol and Clark well because of his ability to stretch the floor and find holes in the defense by slashing inside for easy dunks and layups.
For the Lakers to continue to have success, Jamison has to anchor the bench unit even more. The bench has given up too many leads late, something the Lakers must fix if they want to make the playoffs.
Jamison must thus take it upon himself to lead the Lakers’ bench unit and maintain leads, rather than lose them.
Steve Blake : Since returning from his groin and abdominal injuries, Steve Blake has resumed his backup point guard duties. Replacing Chris Duhon as the primary backup, Blake has done a decent job running the offense when replacing starter Steve Nash.
After missing 37 games, Blake returned to the lineup against New Orleans. Despite only scoring 2 points, Blake’s 4 assists were a welcomed sight. Blake has since averaged 6.0 ppg and 2.7 apg.
These numbers are not extraordinary, but they are certainly an improvement over Duhon.
Blake’s three-point shooting ability has also been an added bonus to the Lakers’ rotation. Since returning to the lineup, Blake is shooting 36.3% from behind the arc on 4-11 three-pointers.
Blake has certainly underachieved in his time in Los Angeles, but he is the best backup point guard on the Lakers’ roster. Blake controls the game much better than Duhon and Darius Morris, which will help the Lakers’ bench unit even more going forward.
Steve Nash : Steve Nash is essentially playing out of position now. Over his past four games, Nash has only averaged 6.0 assists per game, way below his career average of 8.6 apg.
With Bryant as the primary facilitator, Nash has continued to be more of a spot-up shooter over the past week. This changing of roles has obviously been successful with the Lakers winning 5 of their last 6 games.
The Lakers will still need Nash to be an aggressive player on offense, however, especially when Bryant goes to the bench. Nash has done a decent job balancing his scoring and facilitating with Bryant of late—a major key to the Lakers’ success on offense.
In the past week, Nash averaged 12.8 ppg on 50% shooting. This bodes well for the Lakers because Nash is able to take a little more of the scoring load off Bryant’s shoulders.
Nash has especially been solid from three-point range this season, shooting an exceptional 44.4% from behind the arc. In fact, in the last four games, Nash is shooting a scorching 53.8% from three.
With Gasol’s aggressiveness inside and Bryant drawing defenders on his penetration, Nash continues to be efficient on kick outs for three-pointers.
Unfortunately, Nash’s free throw shooting is a different story. Nash gave all of Laker Nation a good scare in Detroit, in which he missed two consecutive free throws late in the game*.
If Nash is able to keep up this ultra-efficient three-point shooting, however, and Bryant keeps facilitating, the Lakers’ spacing on offense will continue to improve.
* Nash had made 33 consecutive free throws in the last minute of fourth quarters before his two misses on Sunday.
Jodie Meeks : Over the past week, Jodie Meeks has become a little more consistent off the bench for coach Mike D’Antoni. Since retaking the primary backup shooting guard role, Meeks has played consistently.
Meeks averaged 8.7 ppg in the past week, but only shot 30% from the field. For the Lakers’ “best three-point shooter”, that shooting percentage must improve.
Meeks’ defense has been better of late, creating havoc and bringing energy off the bench. Meeks is an underrated defender, which has allowed him to stay on the floor, despite his poor shooting.
With Jamison and Blake playing well off the bench, the Lakers lone missing piece to the equation is Meeks. If Meeks can find some consistency with his shot, the Lakers’ bench could become deadly.
Metta World Peace : World Peace had the worst week of any Laker this past week. Although World Peace played decent defensively, he had a dismal shooting week.
World Peace averaged 8.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg, but shot an awful 27.3% from the field. The Lakers desperately need World Peace to return to how he was playing earlier in the season.
Despite starting off the season strong, World Peace is now shooting just 40.1% from the field and 34.9% from three-point land.
World Peace’s main role on the Lakers is to be a lock-down perimeter defender, but he cannot shoot 27.3% from the field for the Lakers to be successful against good teams.
Unfortunately, World Peace has been suspended for Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn for grabbing Detroit’s Brandon Knight around the neck and striking him in the jaw.
Robert Sacre : Despite Dwight Howard re-aggravating his labrum tear, reserve center Robert Sacre received zero minutes off the bench this past week.
Sacre may actually get the chance to play this upcoming week, though. With Howard being out for an extended period of time, Sacre could see some meaningful minutes if the Lakers’ big men get into foul trouble.
Chris Duhon : With Steve Blake’s return, point guard Chris Duhon has officially been relegated to the end of the bench.
Duhon did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week.
Darius Morris : Steve Blake’s return also seems to spell the end for Darius Morris’s minutes as well.
Morris did not play in any of the Lakers’ games last week, either.
Dwight Howard : In the fourth quarter of the Lakers loss to Phoenix, Dwight Howard reinjured his right shoulder. Howard powered up for a dunk, but Suns guard Shannon Brown stripped him and fouled him hard on his right arm.
The result was gruesome. Howard instantly clutched his right shoulder—the shoulder with the torn labrum. After a few seconds, Howard fell to the ground in agony.
This shoulder injury looks like it will bother Howard for the rest of the season. Howard, who is out again against Brooklyn, continues to deflect questions about season-ending surgery.
Howard looks like he will attempt to push through this painful injury, although his return to the Lakers’ lineup remains uncertain.
Howard is still officially listed as ‘day-to-day’.
Notes: The Lakers received a ‘disabled player exception’ for injured Jordan Hill this past week. The ‘DPE’ can used to help facilitate a trade or sign a free agent. Reserve SF Devin Ebanks continued adding to his current 12-game DNP-CD streak.
Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers conclude their ‘Grammy Trip’ battling Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami over the next week.